Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

MusicWatch Monthly: Appreciating the Dead White European Males with Oregon Symphony, Eugene Symphony, Rogue Valley Symphony, Festival Chorale Oregon, and Willamette Master Chorus

The big groups play the big names, from Beethoven to Dvořák to Tchaikovsky to Bach. Also: Renegade Opera at the Hampton Center, Kronos Quartet and Imani Winds at The Reser.


Johann Sebastian Bach, in the famous Elias Gottlob Haussmann portrait c. 1746.
Johann Sebastian Bach, in the famous Elias Gottlob Haussmann portrait c. 1746.

Listen. We definitely talk a lot of shit on the classical pantheon and the Dead White European Males and all that. But there are some True Classics, the charming vampires of western culture, roving like so many Lestats through the Savage Garden of our barely modern world. Truly, these classics must be experienced by any human who loves culture, and if at all possible they should be experienced live and in person at least once.

The music of Johann Sebastian Bach is on that list–all of the music of Bach. If all you can manage is one DWEM, you could do worse than Bach. You could spend the rest of your life listening to Bach and die satisfied.

In terms of orchestral music you also need the majority of Beethoven, especially the Ninth Symphony, plus the major symphonic works of Mozart and Brahms and Mahler and Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, plus a handful of others according to taste–in this case, the present author’s taste, with which you are cordially invited to quarrel in the comments, oh dear and constant reader.

This month, the Oregon Symphony is playing two such works of the imperative canon–one classical and one modern. The classical one is The Classical One, namely Mozart’s Requiem. If you had to summarize the Classical Era in classical music, you could really do it with four swathes of music by one dead white guy, the one who most truly resembles Lestat: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (Sorry Haydn; we still love your Opus 76 string quartets).

Herr Mozart cranked out reams of music like a television composer in debt to the mafia, but you can make do with these four groupings: the five violin concertos (plus the dazzling Sinfonia Concertante); the last three symphonies; the last five operas; and his last three major masses, two of which were left unfinished when he departed his earthly vessel at the tender age of 35 in the nasty winter of 1791.

And if you had to pick just one from out of all this wealth, then yeah, it would be the Requiem. It has everything. It was even in a movie!

Your Oregon Symphony Orchestra will perform that April 6-8, with help from Portland State University’s everchanging, evergreen, award-winning Chamber Choir. Or would it be more accurate to say the orchestra is assisting the choir?


Chamber Music Northwest Imani Winds and BodyVox Beautiful Everything The Reser Beaverton Oregon

Also on the program is William Grant Still’s 1924 symphonic poem Darker America, which the composer described like this:

Darker America, as its title suggests, is representative of the American Negro. His serious side is presented and is intended to suggest the triumph of a people over their sorrows through fervent prayer. At the beginning the theme of the American Negro is announced by the strings in unison. Following a short development of this, the English horn announces the sorrow theme which is followed immediately by the theme of hope, given to muted brass accompanied by strings and woodwind. The sorrow theme returns treated differently, indicative of more intense sorrow as contrasted to passive sorrow indicated at the initial appearance of the theme. Again hope appears and the people seem about to rise above their troubles. But sorrow triumphs. Then the prayer is heard (given to oboe); the prayer of numbed rather than anguished souls. Strongly contrasted moods follow, leading up to the triumph of the people near the end, at which point the three principal themes are combined.

A few weeks later, on April 19-22, YOSO will perform one of the “dealer’s choice” compositions mentioned above. There are many fine recordings of Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (the closest he ever came to writing a symphony), but it’s still one that’s best experienced live in a concert hall–the medium for which it was written. The always-perfect Oregon Symphony brass will get a ton of opportunities to shine throughout this one, not only but certainly not least in the stirring fugato passages near the end of the first movement and the lovely chorale that haunts the second movement’s “game of couples.” Also on that program, Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, featuring Simone Lamsma.

Third place in this brief overview goes to Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, which the orchestra performs April 27-29 alongside another violin concerto, Mendelssohn’s (this time with Kerson Leong as soloist). If you only have room for one piece by Mendelssohn in your personal music library, this is probably the one. But if you were fleeing a sinking ship with the last remaining copies of the scores for Beethoven’s Eighth and Ninth and could only save one (perhaps because you’re already carrying Mozart’s Requiem and All of Bach and maybe a Complete Works of Shakespeare paperback or whatever)–well, let’s be honest here, you’d hardly hesitate before tossing the Eighth overboard on your way to the lifeboats.

But matters are hardly that dire yet, are they? Go enjoy some Beethoven. They’re all classics and have long since earned their status as Beloved Immortals.

Two more, for readers outside of Stumptown. On the 18th, Eugene Symphony performs Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, “Pathetique,” and Liszt’s First Piano Concerto with pianist Drew Petersen. If you can’t get into a concert program like that, you don’t like classical music. The latter three Tchaikovsky symphonies are on that Essentials List we started sketching earlier, and you have to watch a pianist perform Liszt at least once in your lifetime.

In Ashland on April 26-28, the Rogue Valley Symphony performs another of those essential “do yourself a favor and hear this in a concert hall” works: Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, as orchestrated by Maurice Ravel. There are plenty of good recordings of this one too, as there are of every old composition worth a damn (and plenty that aren’t). Hell, there’s a version for Prog Rock Trio. But, unlike the paintings that inspired Mussorgsky’s most famous composition, you can still experience this one live and in person instead of just on your damn phone. Do it! You’ll thank me later.


Portland Center Stage at the Armory Coriolanus Portland Oregon

Also on the program in Ashland, RVS composer-in-residence David Ludwig’s Fanfare for Sam (that’s Sam Barber) and violinist Nancy Zhou performing Chen Qigang’s La joie de la souffrance.

Back to the future

At this point, you have to go to a Kronos Quartet concert with absolutely zero expectations. That’s always been true, to some extent, but there have been periods when you might expect “all Philip Glass” or “all Terry Riley” or “a bunch of Crumb and Hendrix and Whatnot” and so on. Over time, the “Whatnot” has prevailed, so that the program for their upcoming concert at The Reser on April 9 looks like this:

“Five Decades Project”

Sam Green, KRONOS at FIFTY*
Severiano Briseño, arr. Osvaldo Golijov, El Sinaloense (The Man from Sinaloa)+
Krzysztof Penderecki, Quartetto per archi
John Oswald, Spectre*
Sun Ra, Terry Riley & Sara Miyamoto, arr. Paul Wiancko, Kiss Yo’ Ass Goodbye*
Gabriella Smith, Keep Going: V. What I love the most*
Vân-Ánh Võ, River – Sông* (World Premiere with special guest Vân-Ánh Võ)
Aleksandra Vrebalov, Gold Came From Space*
Nicole Lizée, ZonelyHearts*

* Written for Kronos
+ Arranged for Kronos

Phew! It remains to be seen whether Kronos will do the “Ship of Theseus” thing and keep going for another fifty years, changing out cellists as needed, eventually recording whatever passes for “contemporary classical music” in the 22nd century and beyond. Their 50 for the Future commissioning project from a few years ago promised to build “a library of fifty works designed to guide young amateur and early-career professional string quartets in developing and honing the skills required for the performance of 21st-century repertoire.” With any luck they’ll be the first string quartet to perform on the moon.

Also at The Reser, on April 19-21, Imani Winds performs Shawn E. Okpebholo’s Rise, a Chamber Music Northwest co-commission, with movement by Oregon dance company BodyVox. Words can’t really do justice to any of these three elements, so we’ll let the internet do our work for us.

Imani Winds does this:

And BodyVox does this:


Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

And Okpebholo’s music sounds like this:


Sing for the day

We have no idea what Renegade Opera, our favorite little opera company in all of Oregon, will sing at their hilariously-named “Renegala” at Hampton Opera Center on April 13. We do know that they have an almost Fear No Music level of fearlessness when it comes to performing the newest of the new right alongside the Beloved Immortals. Will listeners who plunk down $75 for this fund-raiser event hear Puccini, or Mozart, or Lisa Neher, or Ruby Fulton? Maybe all four? Or something Completely Different?

It seems likely enough that Renegade co-founder Madeline Ross will be singing, and that’s reason enough. If you haven’t seen and heard Ross perform yet, this could be your chance to finally experience Oregon’s next Hannah Penn live and in person. As for the rest of the RO crew: they’re all astounding singers too, and it should probably be pointed out that when serious-minded and highly-skilled young musicians get together and sing what they want to sing instead of what they’re told to sing, they usually kill it.

When you think “Dvořák” you probably think first of his New World Symphony or his Cello Concerto. Fair enough–they’re both fine works (so are the Czech composer’s various string quartets and his other symphonies and the mermaid opera Rusalka). But returning to our “if you had to pick just one” theme, the “one” for Dvořák is surely his Stabat Mater.

If you understand German you can hear Helmut Rilling explaining why, before conducting the hell out of it in Poland in 1995, right here. And you can hear it for yourself when Festival Chorale Oregon sings it on April 14 at Salem’s Elsinore Theatre under the direction of founder Dr. Solveig Holmquist.

Back to Bach

We’d like to leave you with an early May concert. On the 4th and 5th at Willamette University’s Hudson Hall (also in Salem), Willamette Master Chorus presents a program of All Bach, the Whole Bach, and Nothing But the Bach. Actually it’s only three works, and none of them are among Bach’s major choral pieces (for instance the B Minor Mass, the Magnificat, the Coffee Cantata). No, they’ll be singing one motet (“Lobe den Herren,” aka “Praise to the Lord the Almighty”), one cantata (“Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild,”) and one mass: the “Lutheran Mass” in G major, BWV 235, one of Bach’s “parody masses,” so called not because they’re “ha-ha funny” but because they’re composed of previous material (and dead serious).


Chamber Music Northwest Imani Winds and BodyVox Beautiful Everything The Reser Beaverton Oregon

But it’s still Bach, dammit, so put away your Yo-Yo Ma CDs and go hear the maestro’s music live and in person like God intended.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Music editor Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, writer, and alchemist specializing in the intersection of The Weird and The Beautiful. An incorrigible wanderer who spent his teens climbing mountains and his twenties driving 18-wheelers around the country, Matthew can often be found taking his nightly dérive walks all over whichever Oregon city he happens to be in. He and his music can be reached at


7 Responses

  1. Wow, Matt, so central European! (A few token Russians notwithstanding.) What have you got against the West Side and their stories?

    You’ve covered about half the required DWEMs. Now it’s time for the French – including the Pole Chopin, who was French enough to be revered by none other than “musicien français” Debussy – the Flemish, the Spanish, some Irish, Angles and Saxons (but nobody too Germanic), not to mention Italians, who used to be more western before the same geologic processes that created the Alps moved them easterly. Very technically speaking.

    1. Ha, Jeff, I was hoping you’d be mollified by my inclusion of Brahms.

      True that I might have mentioned Debussy….or Messiaen or Franck or Ravel or Milhaud, et alia. Same goes for Rodrigo, de Falla, Holst, Britten, Handel….the list goes on and on and on and on and on, which is The Problem Itself (and is distinctly a problem when you’re trying to keep a monthly column under 2000 words). The Italians, God Bless Em, are really only good at operas and film soundtracks, though of course that’s not nothing.

      Anyways, if anyone in Oregon were playing any of these Europeans’ orchestral music this month they surely would’ve merited a shout out.

      As for Chopin…well, we are specifically talking about orchestra music here, hardly the man’s forte.

      1. Oh now I see. I’ll expect to hear more about the French thanks to the Oregon Symphony in May… maybe leading to a teaser about the Widmann family, and Chamber Music NW this summer?

        Yes, I got carried away about Chopin. It’s easy to get carried away by Chopin… and yes, Brahms. But no, despite being hard to outdo among DWEMs who lived entirely in the 19th century, not renowned for their orchestral prowess.

  2. Dead White Euro Male Classical Composers as “charming vampires” that still need to be experienced by everyone… Wait, what?! What is the point of the opening word salad paragraph? Is it a virtue-signaling or an apology for supporting their work?

    1. Word salad is an excellent source of fiber. Good for the digestion. Keeps the heart young and the mind limber.

      “Virtue-signaling” is such a funny little phrase. I’m used to seeing it lobbed around by anti-woke types trying to cast doubt on the sincerity of a Black Lives Matter sign on somebody’s lawn, or a rainbow flag in their profile pic, or pronouns in their bio, or whatever. Honestly I’ve never been able to follow the ins and outs of the argument. Which “virtue” do you imagine is being “signaled” here? Temperance?

      In any case I can assure you that a love of Bach and Beethoven and Brahms and all the rest requires no apology at all.


  3. Ah, Maddy Ross, y’all, any questions?

    BTW, when Cascadia Composers was casting about for a dazzlingly gifted coloratura to render Ligeti’s “charming little ditty” with sufficiently crazed authority, it was none other than Hannah Penn herself that recommended Maddy while guaranteeing; “You will LOVE her!” True dat, molto thanxo, dear Hannah!!

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